For me, the most surprising and wonderful moment of last night’s John McCain speech was when he said, “and they broke me.” What Presidential candidate has ever made such an admission?
And it almost came out of nowhere. The speech was a little…boring up until then. It felt at times to me like a laundry list of kitchen-table issues. He was clearly distancing himself from Republicans and even scolding them at times but the rhetoric was hardly soaring. I think John McCain is allergic to high-falutin’ phraseology. His cadence is not conducive to speechifying. He jumps on applause lines. But it was exactly the lack of falutin’ that had me not expecting anything extraordinary from McCain last night. He, instead, went for honesty. And to me, it was an extraordinary moment in this campaign season.
Here’s the context:
But after I turned down their offer, they worked me over harder than they ever had before, for a long time, and they broke me.
When they brought me back to my cell, I was hurt and ashamed, and I didn’t know how I could face my fellow prisoners. The good man in the cell next door to me, my friend, Bob Craner, saved me.
Through taps on a wall, he told me I had fought as hard as I could. No man can always stand alone. And then he told me to get back up and fight again for my country and for the men I had the honor to serve with, because every day they fought for me.
I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else’s. I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here. I loved it for its decency, for its faith in the wisdom, justice, and goodness of its people.MCCAIN: I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again; I wasn’t my own man anymore; I was my country’s.
I can see his many panicked consultants sweating over that line, meeting in hallways in whispers and fretting over that line, and maybe even planning on approaching him at some point (but never right then) about the wisdom of that line. I can also see McCain ignoring them -a trait that many find alternately endearing and annoying depending on who’s getting ignored.
But it was an amazing line because some might think it makes him smaller, but it actually makes him seem larger. The way he talked about being broken and built back up as a different man -a better man- was illuminating. The idea that suffering can bless us in unforeseen ways was a suprising turn in a political speech. I trust John McCain more today than I did yesterday. By admitting his limitations he seemed more…presidential.